Monday, December 28, 2009

A few more thoughts

Here are my latest musings, conveniently divided into three sections.

DR-CAFTA: Free Trade from a Nicaraguan Perspective
Alice assigned us this reading on the Dominican Republic and Central American Free Trade Agreement. Although the article used a lot of fairly complex economic reasoning, I still managed to understand several disturbing outcomes CAFTA causes. One particularly perverse result is "dumping." The United States can now sell its agricultural products to Nicaragua at such low prices the Nicaraguan products can’t compete. As a result, Nicaragua ends up buying staple foods like rice. Even though Nicaragua can produce its rice more cheaply than the United States, the U.S. rice is subsidized so it can sell it cheaper than the Nicaragua rice producers. This puts already struggling Nicaraguan farmers out of work, and makes Nicaragua dependent on the U.S. for food. At the same time, CAFTA encourages Central American countries to switch from producing staple foods for their own people to growing cash crops like coffee and sugar for export. This puts the economies in Central America vulnerable, if the cash crops do not produce well one year, or if the foreign demand drops. There is something very sinister about this transformation; although Nicaragua has plenty of fertile land and experienced farmers to feed its citizens, CAFTA forces it to import staples and become dependent on the United States.

Micro-loans for Christmas

My brother got me a wonderful Christmas gift this year, especially in light of the upcoming Nicaragua trip. He hung on our tree a piece of paper reading “To Nora and the world.” I unfolded it to find a picture of “El Grupo Renacer,” a group of women in Bolivia working in such jobs as selling groceries, cosmetics or providing cleaning services, who need to be able to take out loans to fund their enterprises. (When I read the description aloud in Spanish, my brother asked, to my amusement, “Can you actually understand that?”) The money my brother donated will go to fund loans to this group. Unlike the OSCA-funded micro-loans, the loan money gets repaid to the donors, but my brother told me he will just continue to reinvest it. I was very pleased to receive this gift instead of some object that would collect dust in my house. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate the “Christmas spirit” of generosity.

The Challenge of Host Gifts

Also on the topic of gifts, I’ve been facing the challenge of what gifts to bring to my host family, and other people I meet. I spent a lot of time brainstorming with my mom. We would think of a gift, and then debate its usefulness and/or cultural appropriateness for rural Nicaragua. In the end, I decided on getting a bunch of different gifts, since I don’t know exactly who I’ll be giving them to. The gifts I chose have a few common characteristics: useful but attractive, and small enough to easily pack. Here's what I'm bringing: two decks of cards, two nice soaps in reusable boxes, a pair of nice cotton pillowcases, two solar-powered calculators, and a package of colored permanent markers. I hope I made good guesses. I think the OSCA and Oberlin gear the group is bringing will be great for gifts, too.

Yesterday and today I enjoyed the winter weather by going ice skating, and I’m appreciating eating salads and drinking tap water. I’m also trying to go to as many contra dances as possible before I leave. With any luck, I will make it to three this week. I’ve really enjoyed being at home, which is comfortable and relaxing, and I think I am about ready to venture out.

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